August 4th, 2015 | August 12th, 2019 | On American Fascism and the Rise of Trump
It was late in the summer in 2015. I was spending most of my time at a Starbucks on Flatbush Avenue, writing a movie called “Fist of the Five Boroughs.” The movie is a kung-fu exploitation film with all minority leads and heroes. It’s the last violent thing I ever wrote.
While I was writing it, I’d been watching the reaction of our media to Donald Trump, and listening to Republicans who seemed to think he had no chance of being President. I was convinced otherwise, because I remembered the recent reactions our media, and far more people than I thought would react this way, to the murder of Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, and Michael Brown. It had been less than a year since Michael Brown was gunned down in Ferguson, his body left in the sun, and the aftermath (while not surprising) still shocks me to this day. His murderer, Officer Darren Wilson, had gotten money from GoFundMe, and become a conservative celebrity, his star having faded since then.
In the end of July, I went to finish the last few pages of the movie I was working on, and saw an older man reading The Economist. I decided to strike up a conversation with him, hoping he was intelligent, and a typical New Yorker ready to engage me about why so many media liberals were failing to see the danger Trump presented. It turned out he was a political science professor, and it turned out, he was also a racist.
Through our conversation, he warned angrily about the invasion of Latino peoples that Hillary Clinton would allow, and he wanted to see her lose the Presidential election because she cared too much about all of those latino ‘sp — -s and w — b — -s.’ He got so angry when I said, “Why are you a racist?”
He was so angry at being called a racist, because he didn’t see why anything he said was racist since it was, “true,” and he, “heard those people talk about themselves like that.” I remained calm, and we had our conversation, which waxed from his racist tirades about latino peoples to swings about why the Democrats were primed to lose the election, because of how much anger there was among white people about minorities. I said the last part, not him, but he agreed. He gave me his card, and asked me to come to one of his classes. I ended up throwing away the card. I wish I would’ve kept it.
A few days after this conversation at Starbucks I wrote the below, after reading an article in the New Yorker that painted Officer Darren Wilson, the man who murdered Michael Brown, in a sympathetic light. I published the first draft on Facebook, then left a draft here on Medium and never published it until today.
At this point in 2015, after that conversation with the professor and that New Yorker article, I was convinced Trump would be the Republican nominee for President.
I’m still shocked, if not surprised, that we allowed him to become President of the United States.
August 4th, 2015
If it was 1925, and you were an average German citizen, how would you know how evil the Nazis and Adolph Hitler really were?
If you read the text of Mein Kampf and his speeches plainly, it’s clear. Racial purity. Hatred of Jews and ‘mongrel’ races. I’m not certain how it reads in German. In English, the translations make it plain.
Hitler was never elected by a majority. Nor was he toppled by a majority. His rise to chancellor was politics, supported by political winds that wanted, like he did in the 20s, to destroy the German republic. The aristocrats wanted a king, a Kaiser, to restore German greatness. That’s a phrase to watch out for, the restoration of greatness. It implies the past was better than the present. A lot of times, that idea ignores people hurt in those past times. When I was a kid, I would sometimes say wistfully, “if only things were like the 1950s again.” I said it to sound smart, and get approval from adults of a certain age. It never occurred to me that Leave it to Beaver wasn’t real, or that most of the black and white pictures never showed black people. Nor, at that age, did it occur to me that a rollback to the 1950s meant the return of legal segregation, and lynchings. What I probably meant was, “a version of the 1950s where everyone is treated right.” Unions were strong. Women’s rights were weak. The threat of nuclear war was imminent. None of that comes up when someone longs for the past.
You can ignore what’s great in the present when you dwell on your misery. If the past, for you, is a time when things were better, you long for it.
Like Darren Wilson. Our media remembered, a year after Michael Brown’s murder, to memorialize him with a CNN article about a New Yorker Article that paints Darren Wilson in a sympathetic light. His star will fade from conservative circles, and he’ll probably remain a cop. The people who support him believe, even though they have everything, even though they hundreds of thousands of dollars to give to him, that they have nothing. They think the world is taking from them, because they don’t have everything they want, right here, right now.
A world of haves and have nots. If I had been a German in 1925, would I know how evil the Nazis and Hitler really were? Would I allow myself to see it? To pay attention?
If I saw it happening in my own country, would I see it? Would I feel the social pressure to say nothing, to not upset friends, loved ones, strangers? Would I be able to tell the difference between paranoia and stark reality?
Hitler is a label, and it means evil. But what were the Nazis actually saying? What did they want to do?And did they do it?
This page was created by people who claim to be Evangelical Christians, with this poster trying to write prophesies about the end times. The writer does so by comparing Barrack Obama to Adolph Hitler, saying they’re similar. The website host, NowTheEndBegins.com, forwards the original URL to their homepage, but you can see what they wrote thanks to the Internet Archive.
The comparison that this evangelical Christian website makes between Obama and Hitler is both very superficial, and also has some outright lies in it. But some people believe it. To this group of people, the label of ‘Hitler’ just means ‘Evil’ and so the comparison they make is specious.
To me, a less superficial reading would ask …
- What were Hitler’s political goals? (racial purity, end to the German republic, moving control of Germany into the hands of corporate interests)
- What are the dangers of those goals?
And what’s being described is fascism, in truth. It’s when you dismantle democracy and replace it with a state run by corporate interests, combined with extreme nationalism based on a common national identity. That’s one of the reasons why Japan, Italy and Germany could align with each other in the 30s; they each had a similar philosophy and approach to government and the economy. Each government took a form based on the character of the nation. Japan’s was in the form of their Emperor.
Here, in the United States, it would take a different form. But the goals would be the same. And the goals are the dangerous parts. Fascism would have familiar elements to it, if it took hold here. One hundred years from now, if fascism took hold here, a historian would be able to look and say, “Here are the similarities between Italy 1925, Germany 1933, Japan in the early 20th century, and the United States in the early 21st Century.” They would find similarities, but also stark differences.
So, it goes back to my question, would we know what it looks like when it’s happening? Would we see it? Would I see it? Would I know what to do?
Is Trump Hitler? If I say this out loud, how will people react to it? I don’t know.
August 12, 2019 | Epilogue
The truth is, I did and didn’t know what to do. Even then, I was afraid to say it out loud. But here we are, four years later, less than 3 years after Trump became President, and we have Concentration Camps, the normalization of fascist violence, and so much more.
I think everything I wrote then was still true, and I’m still pondering some of it. But I’m calling, I’m protesting, I’m doing some organizing. And the people, our former friends and neighbors and family members who are now having their feelings hurt for being called racist as they explain away why children in detention facilities is a normal state of affairs, may never see who they’ve chosen to become.
We can spend our energy trying to convince them of the right thing to do. Or, we can choose to ensure they can’t wield power over anyone, and stop allowing them to hurt other people. That’s our power. That’s my choice.
If you ever wondered what you would do, if you lived in Germany in 1925–1945, it’s whatever you’re doing right now.
And if we’re lucky, some future historian will look back at us now, and wonder how we could’ve allowed such atrocity, because unthinkable acts of genocide are unknown to our species, our past and present brutality relegated to the dustbin of history, once and for all.
We’re not doomed to repeat the mistakes of history. There’s value in hope, and I still believe that evil isn’t inevitable.
I just hope that everything we do will be enough to end this era of history before it grows worse.